Sunday, July 21, 2013
Reviewed by Sesana
Two out of five stars
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience.
As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here - one of whom was his own grandfather - were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason.
And somehow - impossible though it seems - they may still be alive.
This book has gotten a lot of very good press. And I'll give Riggs credit for a very interesting idea: building a story around some very strange vintage photographs. And the first hundred or so pages, when the main character is at least half convinced that his grandfather's stories of monsters were his way of coping with being a Holocaust survivor, are by far the best. That said, the marketing for this book (and much of the grassroots buzz) took the suspense out of his investigations by making some things foregone conclusions. We know before even picking the book up that his grandfather was telling the truth, though the time travel elements (that look like they'll be a big part of the rest of the series) come as a bit of a surprise.
There are things that just don't work, though. The school is set in a stable time loop, one day that repeats endlessly. The children at the school know that time is passing, and remember every repeat of the cycle as a new day. And yet, despite spending decades in this time loop, they are both every bit as mentally stable as they would have been otherwise and psychologically the same age they were when they entered a loop. That simply doesn't make any sense to me. A ten year old who'd lived eighty years would be... off. To say the least. Not to mention the toll that repeating the same day endlessly would take on the mind. The only thing these kids seem to suffer is boredom.
I just couldn't get attached to the main character, either. He felt whiny, over privileged, and a bit dim to me. Once the story became all about him, and not about his grandfather as well, I started to lose interest. The ending, which moved into the tedious, necessary sequel hook, didn't help. And honestly, his narration didn't sound like the age he was meant to be, at least in the first couple of chapters. By the time he said that he was sixteen and still in high school, I was so certain that he was a twentysomething college student that I had to read the sentence a few times over to believe it. That seemed to be more of an issue early in the book (I have such a hard time believing that any father would tell his sixteen year old son that he can handle his grandfather's dementia episode himself), or I just got used to it.
But the idea of building the story around vintage photos was a good one, and the photos themselves were the best and most eerie part of the entire book. But despite a premise that seemed tailor-made for me, this one just couldn't keep my interest, certainly not enough for me to continue the series. Good idea, bad execution.
Also reviewed on Goodreads.